It maybe stereotypical but it’s true, Havana is full of classic United States cars from the 1950s and earlier. Historic economic and political anomalies led to Havana (and Cuba as a whole) being the best place in the world for such vehicles. Cubans can’t import auto-mobiles privately so they do everything they can to keep their old cars running.
I grew up with Julio Iglesias’ music in the family home. His third child Enrique is now a mega famous singer himself.
Returning from Soroa, Rocío and I were walking to our accommodation in Old Havana (Habana Vieja) when we arrived to a closed road. On Cárdenas Street people and film production equipment surrounded its notable art nouveau houses.
Opened by the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, the stark Russian Embassy dominates its patch of Miramar, the residential and diplomatic district west of central Havana. Likened to a sword or syringe, the tower reminds me of an unpainted and unfinished Transformers machine. Continue reading
Cuba is known for its classic American cars from the 1950s. The country’s streets also carry Soviet vehicles from the 1960s to the 1980s along with modern Chinese auto-mobiles. However, old Japanese cars are a rarity.
On Rocío and my second full day in Havana we saw this ancient Toyota sedan. The sighting piqued Rocío’s interest as a previous long-term resident of Japan.
The car’s proud owner told us he got his Toyota while visiting Japan with the Cuban military in 1985.
In typical Cuban fashion, the car is still running decades after manufacture. It is also right-hand-drive, another point of difference to other Cuban vehicles. The owner wore a tattoo sleeve on his right arm, probably for sun protection as opposed to fashion.
160 kilometres west of Havana is the intriguing city of Pinar del Río. Not a major tourist destination itself, south-west of Pinar del Río is the famous Robaina cigar tobacco farm Finca El Pinar and to the north, Viñales’ wonderful landscapes.
After the new year in Havana Rocío and I were ready to go west. From Parque de la Fraternidad we caught the local P-12 bus to near the National Bus Terminal (Terminal de Ómnibus Nacionales). On 19 de Mayo Avenue we took an old Chevrolet van colectivo to Pinar del Río. Part way there the vehicle experienced a flat tyre.
While changing the tyre, the driver used a rock to support the axle. The van’s lights contained images of Che Guevara.
* See bottom of post for a video of the day
Camagüey Province’s Río Máximo Wildlife Reserve (Refugio de Fauna Río Máximo) contains not only Cuba’s but the Western Hemisphere’s largest flamingo nesting site. After not getting to Cayo Sabinal, Rocío was determined to see the flamingos at Río Máximo.
In Camagüey City we asked people and agencies how to get the reserve. No one seemed to know. State tour company Ecotur hadn’t organised tours there for two years due to the track there requiring a truck and the lack of on site hygiene facilities. An official tourist guide, who also didn’t know the way, recommended we hire a large US car (with driver) that had been converted to diesel to maximise our chances of reaching the reserve. In the city centre while looking for such car, we met an old man who reckoned he knew a way there. Then we met a younger guy who was willing to take us and had a friend with a car.
Instead of a hulking diesel-fueled US classic we had the opposite: a small Soviet petrol sedan! But our Lada had character, including huge windscreen cracks and no internal rear door handles. Time for another crazy Cuban adventure. Continue reading
Camagüey, Cuba’s third largest city was founded in its current location in 1528. The city’s labyrinthine streets in its UNESCO world heritage-listed historic centre are worth wandering. Camaguey is also a good base for exploring its eponymous province, Cuba’s biggest, including Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey, Nuevitas and Refugio de Fauna Río Máximo, the Western Hemisphere’s largest flamingo nesting site.
Rocío and I first visited Camagüey for an afternoon in between the bus from Holguín and the train to Nuevitas. Returning Christmas day after a night on a hut floor, we desired a shower and proper bed. From our worst Cuban accommodation we chanced upon our best: Casa Juanita y Rafael, a lovingly decorated guest house with super high ceilings and a beautiful courtyard (25 CUC/US$25 per night). The courtyard included a fish pond in Camagüey’s symbol, a large ceramic vessel called a tinajón.
I had never heard of Nuevitas until this day. A port town on Camagüey Province’s coast, it is not on the tourist map. Arriving to Camagüey from Holguín, Rocío and I hoped to go north to Cubitas for the Reserva Ecológica Limones Tuabaquey. Instead, the fruit cart man suggested catching the train east to Nuevitas. We wanted to experience a Cuban train ride so embraced his idea.
Our bicycle taxi driver advised we buy food beforehand as the train doesn’t sell any. 5 CUP (US$0.20) per fish sandwich later and we were set.
Taking a Cuban Train from Camagüey to Nuevitas
The daily Nuevitas train left Camagüey at 5:20pm with ticket sales beginning 4pm so we had time to observe the locals in the station and watch a freight train pass. Continue reading